Saturday, January 28, 2012

Friday, January 27, 2012

Albert Nobbs (2011)

Much, much better than I expected.

It's a story about chameleons, sort of, of two women in 19th century Dublin who, for different reasons, live their lives as men.

Glenn Close is Albert, a waiter in nice hotel run by the greedy and pretentious Mrs. Baker (Pauline Collins.) Albert's lived her life in drag for over 30 years and it's become a prison and a barrier to any intimacy with other humans, until Mrs. Baker hires a painter, Hubert Page (Janet McTeer,) and Albert discovers she's not the only one living a lie. Hubert, who lives with wife Cathleen (Bronagh Gallagher in a small but memorable role) in a small house and dress shop, is the catalyst for Albert's trying to realize her dream of using her life savings to open a shop of her own and taking a wife. Albert sets her sights on Helen (Mia Wasikowska,) a lovely blonde waitress. The only problem is that Helen is in love with a real -- but abusive -- young prick, Joe Mackins (Aaron Johnson.)

It's no revelation that Glenn Close (who also shares a screenwriting credit) is a good actress, but she really gets the chance to show what she's capable of as Albert Nobbs, with a supporting cast of other great performers including Brendan Gleeson, all guided by the capable hands of Colombian director Rodrigo Garcia.

A Better Life (2011)

One of the best films to come out of Los Angeles in a while.

At its core, this is the story of a single father in East L.A. trying to make a better life for his son.

Carlos Galindo (Demián Bichir) is an undocumented gardener trying to stay afloat financially and keep his rebellious son Luis (José Julián) away from gang influences. Things look up when Carlos buys the truck and tools of the man he works for to start his own business and takes on an acquaintance, Santiago, as an apprentice. Santiago steals the truck and tools, and Carlos and Luis embark on a dangerous journey through the L.A. underbelly to recover it.

It's easy to see why Bichir was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar. Of the nominees, his role is probably the least flashy, but I'm willing to bet it has the most heart as well. José Julián is also a standout in this subtle, moving drama.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Sunday Afternoon at Olivia's

Olivia de Havilland, circa 1940s

Pickfair, 1920s

Mary Pickford at home.

Her estate auction a few years back turned up some interesting items:

Little Mary's nut cups. 

Little Mary's wine decanters shaped like grape clusters. So many. Glug-glug.

Little Mary's musical liquor bottle. Note the quaint hand-painted drunk on the side. The top is askew because a plastic piece inside was broken. Did she drop it? Or throw it at Buddy or a servant?

Now, Voyager (1942)

In 1942, Warners wanted to borrow Irene Dunne from Columbia to play the Yankee heroine of Olive Higgins Prouty's bestselling novel. Until Bette Davis got wind of it. She campaigned hard for the role and had to convince both Jack Warner and producer Hal Wallis that as a New Englander (and an actress already under contract to Warners,) she was the right person for the role.

Charlotte Vale was a plum part. A repressed Boston spinster who has a nervous breakdown, gets a makeover, and is sent on a Caribbean pleasure cruise. Then she returns home, kills her frosty mother and takes her gold. All this, and cigarettes. Lots and lots of cigarettes.

Davis rode director Irving Rapper hard, fought him the whole way, changed Paul Henreid's hairstyle, and in nearly every scene restored original dialogue from the Prouty novel that had been altered for the script.

Newcomer Henreid, who years later directed Davis in Dead Ringer (1964,) remembered, "She was the soul of kindness to me all through the shooting, as she was to all the cast. I have never understood these stories of how difficult she was to other cast members. On the contrary, she would fight their battles with the director."

Now, Voyager emerged a classic and was Davis's biggest hit, making a profit of $2.3 million for Warners and bringing Davis her fifth straight Oscar nomination.